In 1947, before I was a teenager, I saw a movie, Good News, staring June Allyson and Peter Lawford. The story was the traditional one about a college football hero who meets a librarian and decides to sweep her off her size 3 shoes. Allyson is reluctant, at first, and rebuffs Lawford with a line so funny, I almost chocked at the time. “Gee,” she says languidly gazing into her suitor’s brown eyes. “I wish somebody loved me the way you love you.”
I never forgot the line, obviously, and thought Lawford got his proper comeuppance. But according to scientific research, his character’s opinion of himself wasn’t far from the norm. The average American’s self-esteem score is fairly high. “Like the children of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, most of us have decided we are above average.” (“Letting Go of Self-esteem,” by Jennifer Crocker and Jessica J. Carnevale, Scientific American Mind, Sept/Oct., 2013 pg. 28)
Freud admitted thinking well of ourselves is good, but holding too high an opinion is an impediment, making it difficult to benefit from mistakes. (Ibid pg. 29) Oddly enough, it also discourages risk-taking. People get too comfortable doing what they already do best. (Ibid pg. 29) High esteem has nothing to do with intelligence (Ibid. pg. 29) and the good feeling we get from personal accomplishment hasn’t the sticking power of an oatmeal breakfast. (Ibid pg. 31). Soon, we start looking for the next high.
One form of accomplishment does pay dividends, however. When we act for the benefit of others, our feelings of personal approval last longer. (Ibid pg. 31) Apparently, working for a purpose larger than ourselves gives us a sense of connectedness.
After reading the article, I was gratified that science had verified the benefits of altruism. That is good news. But most of us already knew its value. That’s why we call the idea The Golden Rule.
(Courtesy of IMDb.com)